From North By Current (2021), dir. Angelo Madsen Minax (image courtesy Angelo Madsen Minax)

Catharsis invigorates Angelo Madsen Minax’s documentary North By Current. Three years after the death of his young niece, Kalla — for which both Minax’s sister and her partner were treated as suspects — the artist returns to his hometown in rural Michigan. Initially conceived as commentary on the injustice of the criminal system, the project morphs into a lyrical rumination on accountability, trauma, and Minax’s own gender transition. Constructed in between the modes of a video essay and a road movie, the film pairs personal archive with interviews with family.

Minax often turns the camera on himself, especially when in conversation with his parents, to demonstrate how their insensitive comments wound him. Not only does Minax’s mother misgender him, but we also hear his parents equating his transition to Kalla’s death, spurring the teary-eyed filmmaker to run out of his own home. “I worked so hard to be alive,” he says as he looks at the night sky. This incident also inspires Minax to initiate a conversation with Kalla’s spirit, having her soothing yet acute commentary punctuate the film.

Minax’s out-front style opens to a voyeuristic approach to filmmaking. Old videos are cut and rearranged to respond to his interrogation of his family’s guilt-ridden past. Similarly, scenes that happened years before are reenacted, now through the mediation of a movie camera. Cinema acts as a form of absolution. Minax understands varying life upheavals as rites of passage — each fragment of the home movie footage he incorporates tessellates a path to a rapturous ending.

North By Current will be playing at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

Ren Scateni is a writer, curator, and programmer. They mostly write about the cinema of Japan and other East Asian countries for various publications, including MUBI Notebook, Art Review, and Sight &...